I am an avid student of history. The love I have for learning about the human experience across generations was sparked by my 11th grade 20th Century History teacher. He used one notebook full of course notes and a few books to open our minds to another mode of learning history. A course on the “Civil Rights Movement” blew up my world as a college sophomore. Since then, I’ve thought about what choices I would have made “back then.” What would I have done as a young Jewish girl faced with the decision to go left or right? What would I have done as a Fisk University student after hearing about the Freedom Rides? Would I have been a leader, a follower or an agitator? Would I have had the nerve to resist?
Who knows? I can’t say what I would have done. I can attest to how far I think I am willing to go and what I’m willing to fight for NOW. The Freedom Riders of the 1960’s signed their last wills and testaments before they got on the bus. They knew what was at stake. Lives were on the line. When faced with terrorism and persistent barriers to exercising full humanity, they made the choice and step out to perform what seemed impossible. They rode for their lives and the lives of their communities.
When I think about what threatens my life and the lives of my community, the oppressor and the systems are somewhat different. In Chicago and Washington, DC; there is no visible hyper-bigot present like Bull Connor. The police chiefs don’t publicly call Black people “Niggers” or easily condone mass public displays of violence against Black people. The terrorism against communities of color is more sophisticated and done with less honesty. We have Sean Bells, Ayana Jones and Oscar Grants. The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t burn crosses and go for night rides like they used to. We have the Tea party in Congress and capitalists demanding an American President of African descent to show his papers.
While the Freedom Riders rode for basic civil rights on Greyhound buses, today’s Freedom Fighters have to ride in a different way. Public accommodations such as the bus or the lunch counter aren’t today’s challenge. Access to a quality public education, protection against violence and mass incarceration are among the current challenges. Given these challenges, the reactions of activists advocates and organizers have to evolve. We must hold on to effective methods and tactics and let go of what does not work.
I’m willing to ride for my life and the right to exercise the freedoms my ancestors already fought for. I’m willing to fight for the freedoms we have yet to obtain. I’m willing to ride so my undocumented brothers and sisters don’t have to live in fear. I’m willing to ride so little girls don’t have to grow up in a world where their womanhood and value will constantly face attacks. I’m willing to ride to end the mass incarceration of Black, Brown and poor people in America. I have the privilege and opportunity to make that choice, who am to ignore that reality?
So my question is, what are you willing to ride for?